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Thursday, May 12, 2016

How Do You Handle Loss?


“I think I have a hard time dealing with loss.”

“Ya’ THINK????”

That was the core of a conversation I had with my wife yesterday.  She was the one who said, “Ya’ THINK???”  She may not have used exactly those words, but it was pretty close to that, if not in verbage, in tone and intent.

You see, we had a few items that had gotten damaged recently, and I sorted through them yesterday to see what, if anything, was salvagable.  Not much was.  The items, some mine, some hers, included a few photographs, some of which are replaceable, some of which are not, and some nostalgic momentoes which cannot be replaced.  After working through the items, saddened at losing many of them as well as the work it will take to replace what I can, I walked by a polo shirt she had picked up the other day for me and told her that we just needed to take it back.  When she asked why, I explained it looked too similar to a shirt my dad used to wear, and I think it would bother me to be wearing it.  It was at about this time that I made my comment.

One would think I would be a person who has no issues with loss, having been through divorce and all the loss it entails, and having lost a plethora of aunts and uncles to death in recent years, as well as having moved multiple times in life, loss should be a no-brainer for me, huh?  Some of my earliest memories of loss center around good childhood friends who moved to another town when I was young, and a multitude of cats, mostly named Tinkerbelle (by my sister), who ended up on the wrong end of a tire on the nearby highway.  

Life is filled with losses.  Divorce is rampant with them.  (I claim I lost my African violets in the divorce, because they thrived in the bay window of our house, but when I moved, the first place I lived had terrible window light and the violets died, one by one.)  

Divorce brings loss of hopes for what the marriage might have been, loss of memories with children due to drastically altered life schedules, custodies and “visits,” financial loss, loss of a home, loss of companionship, maybe loss of optimism, innocence or joy, loss of various relationships that are entangled in the process…  If divorce is anything, it is a LOT of losses all wrapped up in an already difficult and drawn out process.  

I have noticed as a pastor that people handle losses lots of different ways.  Some grieve briefly and move on quickly.  Others become weighed down and almost obsessed with their losses.  Some process loss over time, weeping a bit here and there, and then dealing with another level later when some reminder pops up.  For some, loss is just an ache that is carried in the heart that remembers the hurt.  There is always an opportunity to learn through loss, and we can grow through it.  

Loss can teach us to appreciate the things that really matter in life, which probably was NOT my framed magazine cut out picture in the damaged box, which had come from the old toolshed.  No, probably more important was the person with whom I shared time in that toolshed, and the skills learned there, and the precious memories that are stirred whenever I encounter the right combination of the odors of sawdust and oil.  However, sometimes what is lost ARE the important things…such as time with your children that has suddenly been drastically reduced.  

Interestingly enough, after that encounter last night, in this morning’s devotional time, I was reading in last year’s Our Daily Bread, an article by David McCasland in which he refers to Joshua setting up stones from the middle of the Jordan River as a reminder for generations to come.  McCasland talks of the various souvenirs and trinkets he had collected over the years that evoked nostalgia on his part.  They, along with Joshua’s rock markers, become for McCasland a useful reminder of the positive ways God has acted in his past, but instead of leaving the focus on the past, he uses those reminders to give him hope and encouragement as he faces today and tomorrow.  Knowing God has helped in the past, provides evidence of his faithfulness and yields encouragement that he will also be there to help today and throughout the days to come.  The timing of the article was impeccable for me.  (I’m glad I didn’t have it to read last year!)  

I don’t believe there is a specifically right and healthy way to handle loss.  There are certainly some UNHEALTHY ways to deal with it…such as so much of the violence we witness in America in the news.  But the right and healthy ways vary from person to person, and the time it takes to work through loss varies from person to person, as well as according to the kind of loss suffered.  However, the most important task in experiencing losses is accepting them as part of life and learning to grow from them, to weave them into meaningful life lessons to help us as we face life’s challenges today and tomorrow.  

I love the joy that these tokens of memory bring to life when I see them, joy from happy celebrations, special trips or valued relationships.  But they are only tokens.  Life is so much more than the tokens we accumulate along the way…much as we may treasure them.  If you are grieving a loss at this time, I encourage you to also search in the midst of loss for those tokens of the past that bring hope for tomorrow, knowing that the God who helped you then has not changed and will continue to watch over you today and forever.  

Then again, there was the loss I experienced that my father confirmed just a few years before he died.  As I was helping him clean out some things at the house, I voiced the possibility that perhaps I might run across my childhood baseball cards, cards with pictures of heroic ball players…Mickey Mantle, Roger Marris, Willie Mays, Sandy Kofax and more.  Dad simply said, “You aren’t going to run across them.  I know that your mother threw them away when we moved.  I saw her do it.  I don’t know why she did it, but I know they are gone.”  Lost baseball cards are in a category all its own!  But for everything else, loss can be a valuable experience in life.  

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